Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Why do we do it? Evangelisation: is it just so that we can "Grow the Church"?

Just a few more thoughts on the matter of Evangelisation (those not interested can go to the Rocket Science class).

I went to a VCCE ("Victorian Council of Christian Education") seminar today given by Phil Hughes on the recent Spirituality of GenY report. All very interesting. One young chap, currently studying the phenomenon of the "megachurch", asked whether the motivation for the survey was to learn how more effectively we could "grow the church", in which case he had serious concerns. Dr Hughes responded "no" to that question, but it links up with something I read today in the latest Commonweal magazine by Timothy P. Shilling called "A report on Europe's New Evangelization".

He says:

"One also hears calls to “take back Europe,” as if a kind of religious imperialism might save the day. Such tendencies are unworthy of the church-evangelization is a matter of love, not of religious competition or dominance-and Benedict XVI has suggested repeatedly that a smaller, more perfectly devoted church is preferable to a large, self-satisfied one. Recall that the 1991 Vatican document Dialogue and Proclamation called dialogue an integral element of the church’s evangelizing mission. Are we prepared to honor the God-given dignity and freedom of those who have made a different choice, and to hear their good news besides proclaiming our own? Do we want evangelization to succeed out of love for others, or do we need the church to succeed in the world’s eyes to prove to ourselves that our own faith is real?" (my emphasis)

That's a very good question, isn't it? Not many people know of the 1991 D&P statement. You can find it here. It should be better known, as it places interfaith dialogue firmly within the category of "evangelisation". Most Interfaith Dialogue Devotees would be surprised (and perhaps embarrassed) to learn this, but they needn't be. As Schilling says above, real evangelisation for the sake of the gospel honours those who have made different choices.

Schilling goes on to identify "four distinct publics" which are targets for the Church's proclamation:

1. "those who practice Christianity and whose faith needs support and inspiration;
2. "those who remain ignorant of or indifferent to the church because of a lack of exposure to its teaching and practice;
3. "those who reject Christianity on experiential or intellectual grounds; and
4. "those who adhere to another religion (most typically, Islam)."

This reminds me of Shannon's recent post regarding apologetics.

I reckon we have traditionally focused evangelisation on the second and fourth group Schilling identifies.

We urgently need to focus on those in the first category--ie. those in the Church who need stronger grounding in their faith. This is the work of formation and catechesis, and it is sometimes called "inner evangelisation", because it is about continuously evangelising the evangelised. We all need that, which is why the Church tells us we have to go to Mass on Sundays to hear the word and take part in the Eucharist.

Just as urgently (and this was borne out by today's seminar on the GenY report) we need to focus on those (primarily young) people who have rejected the faith "on experiential or intellectual grounds." This is the job of apologetics (as Shannon points out), and is particularly urgent today. The results of the Spirituality of GenY survey seem to point out that kids today want clear, intellectually respectable answers to their questions as well as a genuine religious experience.

In all this, we must not be afraid of the "D" word: Dialogue. You can't evangelise without dialogue. It is the key to catechesis, formation, and apologetics.

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